"The first nervous systems appeared in jellyfish-like animals six hundred million years ago or so," says Harold Zakon, professor of neurobiology, "and it was thought that sodium channels evolved around that time. We have now discovered that sodium channels were around well before nervous systems evolved."
Zakon and his coauthors, Professor David Hillis and graduate student Benjamin Liebeskind, published their findings this week in PNAS.
Nervous systems and their component neuron cells were a key innovation in the evolution of animals, allowing for communication across vast distances between cells in the body and leading to sensory perception, behavior and the evolution of complex animal brains.
Sodium channels are an integral part of a neuron's complex machinery. The channels are like floodgates lodged throughout a neuron's levee-like cellular membrane. When the channels open, sodium floods through the membrane into the neuron, and this generates nerve impulses.
Zakon, Hillis and Liebeskind discovered the genes for such sodium channels hiding within an organism that isn't even made of multiple cells, much less any neurons. The single-celled organism is a choanoflagellate, and it is distantly related to multi-cellular animals such as jellyfish and humans.
The researchers then constructed evolutionary trees, or phylogenies, showing the relationship of those genes in the single-celled choanoflagellate to multi-cellular animals, including jellyfish, sponges, flies and humans.
Because the sodium channel genes were found in choanoflagellates, the scientists propose that the genes originated not only before the advent of the nervous system, but even before the evolution of multicellularity itself.
"These genes were then co-opted by the nervous systems evolving in multi-cellular animals," says Hillis, the Alfred W. Roark Centennial Professor in Natural Sciences. "This study shows how complex traits, such as the nervous system, can evolve gradually, often from parts that evolved for other purposes."
"Evolutionarily novel organs do not spring up from nowhere," adds Zakon, "but from pre-existing genes that were likely doing something else previously."
Liebeskind, a graduate student in the university's ecology, evolution and behavior program, is directing his next research efforts toward understanding what the sodium channels do in choanoflagellates.
Harold Zakon | EurekAlert!
First time-lapse footage of cell activity during limb regeneration
25.10.2016 | eLife
Phenotype at the push of a button
25.10.2016 | Institut für Pflanzenbiochemie
Ultrafast lasers have introduced new possibilities in engraving ultrafine structures, and scientists are now also investigating how to use them to etch microstructures into thin glass. There are possible applications in analytics (lab on a chip) and especially in electronics and the consumer sector, where great interest has been shown.
This new method was born of a surprising phenomenon: irradiating glass in a particular way with an ultrafast laser has the effect of making the glass up to a...
Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion
Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...
Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.
"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...
In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.
A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...
By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.
"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...
14.10.2016 | Event News
14.10.2016 | Event News
12.10.2016 | Event News
25.10.2016 | Earth Sciences
25.10.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering
25.10.2016 | Process Engineering